Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
CREATIONIST PRESSURE MOUNTING IN FLORIDA
As Florida continues to consider the draft of a new set of state science standards, there are reports about mounting creationist lobbying against the inclusion of evolution and for the inclusion of creationism. Writing in the Miami Herald (December 9, 2007), Fred Grimm summarized: "For the past 11 years, the biology curriculum in Florida schools has ignored the one great organizing principle of biological science. Darwin's theory was blackballed ... If not exactly storming into the 21st century, at least the new standards signal that we're, well, evolving intellectually. Or so it seemed until last week, when board member Donna Callaway, a former middle school principal from Leon County, said she opposed this Godless evolution stuff."
According to the St. Petersburg Times (December 6, 2007), Callaway, a member of the state board of education, told a Baptist newspaper that she planned to vote against the standards, saying that evolution "should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of origins of life" and expressing her hope for prayers over the issue: "I want God to be part of this." The newspaper was unable to obtain comment from most of the rest of the members of the state board of education; Roberto Martinez, however, said that he favored the standards, commenting, "I respect the people who have beliefs in creationism and intelligent design, but I do not believe it should be included as part of the science standards."
A later report on the Times's education blog (December 11, 2007) described board member Linda Taylor as "generally supportive of the 'choices' philosophy, so long as it falls within what the state can do legally." She was quoted as saying, "With the evolution, there's a bigger topic called theories of origin. I think kids should have the opportunity to compare different theories ... If we are focused on evolution I am OK with that. But they should at least know there are other theories out there and that they could themselves compare them or that they be presented to them. I would support teaching evolution, but with all its warts. I think that some of the facts have been questioned by evolutionists themselves. I would want them taught as theories."
A scant two days later after its report on Callaway, the St. Petersburg Times (December 8, 2007) revealed that there was opposition to the treatment of evolution in the draft standards within the state department of education itself: "Selena 'Charlie' Carraway, program manager for the department's Office of Instructional Materials, recently used her personal e-mail on personal time to send a missive urging fellow Christians to fight the proposal to include evolution as a "key idea" in the science curriculum. But she invoked her position as a way to, in her words, 'give this e-mail credibility.' And that, it turns out, is a no-no." A spokesperson for the department told the newspaper, "It is inappropriate for any department employee to use their public position to advocate their personal positions."
Unlike Chris Comer in Texas, Carraway was "counseled" by the human resources department and warned not to abuse her position again. NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "Now she has a second chance, and hopefully she'll behave more responsibly," and Florida Citizens for Science's Joe Wolf concurred, saying, "I think she's allowing her religious beliefs to interfere with her public duty," adding, "I wish she hadn't done it. But I think it's an internal matter." A forceful editiorial in the St. Petersburg Times (December 10, 2007) disagreed, contending, "Firing would be more in order" for Carraway, and calling on Donna Callaway to resign from her position on the state board of education.
In addition to the individual statements of Callaway and Carraway, the St. Petersburg Times reported that Focus on the Family was rallying its supporters to weigh in ("to include intelligent design in science classes"); that a state representative who is likely to become Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives in 2011, Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel), expressed reluctance at the idea of presenting evolution "from just one perspective"; and that "[t]he Polk County School Board has stated it might allow alternatives to evolution to be in its schools," referring to earlier reports (such as the Lakeland Ledger's story from November 20, 2007) that a majority of its members support teaching "intelligent design" in addition to evolution.
In response to the mounting creationist pressure on the board, Florida Citizens for Science launched its All I Want for Christmas is a Good Science Education campaign, calling on supporters of the integrity of science education to send holiday cards to the members of the Florida state board of education: "This project will demonstrate that there are as many, if not more, people in Florida who support good science education as there are people against it. We want to tell them that we don't want our state to become the laughingstock of the nation like other states were in past years when confronted with similar situations." A list of further actions is also provided.
The current version of the state science standards, dating from 1999, received a grade of F in the Fordham Foundation's report The State of State Science Standards 2005, which described them as "sorely lacking in content." Two of the authors of the report have expressed approval of the new draft, however. Paul R. Gross reviewed the draft at the request of the St. Petersburg Times (November 30, 2007), which quoted him as saying, "Clearly, the writing committee, whoever they are, have taken to heart all the arguments that have been made about lousy standards," adding, "The organization of the plan is entirely respectable, and it pays attention to all the national models ... There's not a lot of fluff in it."
Similarly, Lawrence S. Lerner was asked by NCSE and Florida Citizens for Science to review the draft. In a press release dated December 3, 2007, Lerner said, "This draft is a giant step in the right direction ... It is clear, comprehensive, and most importantly, accurate." He estimated that, evaluated by the same standards of the Fordham Foundation's report, the standards would receive a high B, adding, "With a little bit of extra effort, Florida could bring that up to an A." Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science commented, "Accurate and honest science education is critical to our state's future. ... These improved standards will give teachers a vital resource as they prepare the doctors, scientists, and citizens of the 21st century."
In Lerner's assessment, the draft standards received a grade of A for their treatment of evolution in particular. NCSE's Joshua Rosenau explained, "Evolution is the central organizing principle of modern biology. Cutting-edge work in biology, medicine, computer science, and even geology and astronomy requires a clear understanding of evolution. Adopting these improved standards will mean that Florida students will be better prepared to make life-saving and life-enhancing breakthrough discoveries, to make the best use of those new discoveries as they arise, and to maintain Florida's standing in an ever more competitive world."
The period of public comment on the draft science standards expires on December 14, 2007. So far, the Associated Press (December 8, 2007) reported, over 8000 people have commented. The writing committee will then revise the draft and send the result to the Florida Board of Education for its consideration in February 2008. NCSE's Joshua Rosenau, who was in Kansas during its latest battle over the place of evolution in the state science standards there, told Wired News (December 10, 2007), "My fear is that Florida will do something like happened in Kansas a couple years ago, with the Board of Education overruling the decisions made by the expert committee appointed to draft the new standards."
For Fred Grimm's column in the Miami Herald, visit:
For the stories in the St. Petersburg Times, visit:
For the editorial in the St. Petersburg Times, visit:
For the story in the Lakeland Ledger, visit:
For Florida Citizens for Science, its blog, and its new campaign, visit:
For the St. Petersburg Times's story quoting Paul R. Gross, visit:
For NCSE and Florida Citizens for Science's joint press release, visit:
For the Associated Press's story, visit:
For Wired News's story, visit:
And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Florida, visit:
THE COMER CONTROVERSY CONTINUES
Over two weeks after it was first reported that Christine Comer was forced to resign from her post at the Texas Education Agency, apparently because she forwarded a brief e-mail announcing a lecture on "intelligent design" by Barbara Forrest, the state's newspapers continue to provide a steady stream of news and commentary. And groups with a stake in the integrity of science education in Texas continue to voice their concern. As the Austin American-Statesman (December 14, 2007) observed in its latest story, "The controversy over Comer's departure put the agency's scientific credibility at risk at a time when Texas is trying to attract star researchers and scientists for a growing biomedical and biotech industry, and just before the State Board of Education begins developing new science standards next month."
Comer herself appeared on NPR's "Science Friday" on December 7, 2007, relating her story to the show's host, Ira Flatow. After receiving the e-mail announcing Forrest's talk, she said, "you know, I had a half minute and I said, gee, this is really interesting. And then, I looked up the credential on my computer, I Googled Barbara Forrest and I said, oh my goodness, this is quite a credential[ed] speaker. And then I thought to myself -- you know, I'm telling my biology teachers almost on a weekly basis, teach the curriculum, teach the evolution curriculum because it's part of the state-mandated curriculum. And now, I should be -- you know, I should be walking the talk here, and I -- there's nothing wrong with this e-mail, of course." Less than two hours later, a colleague was calling for her termination, and in the following week, she was effectively forced to resign.
Comer told Flatow that there were previous indications that the TEA was discouraging its employees from taking a stand on evolution. At a meeting during which employees were told that they must be careful about what they say and do, Comer recounted, she mentioned the topic of creationism: "And she said, I'm so glad you brought that up ... because it's important for us to realize that if the company line is that we endorse creationism, then that's what we have to say. I was shocked. I said, my goodness, even the president's ... own science adviser, was not held to that standard. And she said, well, I'm just telling you." Comer was referring to John H. Marburger III, Director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, who told The New York Times (August 3, 2005), "Evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology" and "intelligent design is not a scientific concept."
Over the weekend, the Austin American-Statesman (December 8, 2007) again expressed its concern about both Comer's ouster and about what it signifies about the TEA's attitude toward evolution education. Acknowledging that the TEA cited a number of Comer's supposed misdeeds in the memorandum recommending her termination, the editorial concluded, "But there is no doubt that the e-mail incident riled an influential boss at TEA and played a role in Comer's resignation." As for the TEA's policy of "neutrality" about evolution, the editorial urged the TEA to heed the scientific community, quoting the biologist David Hillis of the University of Texas, Austin -- just two blocks away from the TEA -- as saying, "There is absolutely no scientific basis or evidence for 'intelligent design.' It is simply a religious assertion, and it has no place in a science course."
The TEA's commissioner Robert Scott was interviewed by the Dallas Morning News (December 9, 2007). He denied that Comer was forced to resign just for forwarding the e-mail announcing Forrest's talk, alluding to "other factors" that he was not able to discuss. Asked, "Was her advocacy of evolution over creationism an element in her dismissal?" he replied, "She wasn't advocating for evolution. But she may have given the impression that ... we were taking a position as an agency -not as an individual but as an agency -- on a matter." Asked, "Why shouldn't the agency advocate the science of evolution? Texas students are required to study it," he replied, "you can be in favor of a science without bashing people's faith, too. I don't know all the facts, but I think that may be the real issue here." He did not explain how Comer's behavior was supposed to constitute faith-bashing.
While on "Science Friday," Comer thanked her supporters, saying, "Science educators and rational minds have really gone to bat and have written letters, made e-mails, and sent phone messages. It's really been an incredible response." As NCSE previously reported, Texas Citizens for Science, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Institute for Biological Sciences have all issued statements critical of the TEA, focusing especially on the claim, expressed in the memorandum recommending Comer's termination, that "the TEA requires, as agency policy, neutrality when talking about evolution and creationism." In a statement released through NCSE, and a subsequent post at Oxford University Press's blog, Barbara Forrest herself deplored the situation, writing (in the latter), "I find it difficult to avoid concluding that Ms. Comer has become a casualty of the pro-ID political agenda."
The Society for the Study of Evolution released a statement reading, in part, "Professional ethics demands that one not 'remain neutral' when science is deliberately misrepresented by creationists. Chris Comer thus acted responsibly and professionally in forwarding the announcement about an educational lecture regarding 'Intelligent Design' creationism. In contrast, the administrators who called for her termination and who forced her resignation acted irresponsibly and in direct opposition to the professional standards expected of those who oversee science education. Their comments, quoted above, make it clear that they have sacrificed not only a dedicated public servant but also the facts and the very nature of science to partisan political ideology. It is a sad day for Texas when TEA administrators resort to Stalinist-style purging to suppress the truth about the bankruptcy of 'Intelligent Design' arguments."
Similarly, as the Austin American-Statesman (December 11, 2007) reported, "More than 100 biology faculty members from universities across Texas signed a letter sent Monday to state Education Commissioner Robert Scott saying Texas Education Agency employees should not have to remain neutral on evolution." Daniel Bolnick of the University of Texas, Austin, told the newspaper, "I'm an evolutionary biologist, and I and many others simply feel that good evolution education is key to understanding biology as a whole," and his colleague David Hillis added that the Comer controversy represented "an enormous black eye in terms of our competitiveness and ability to attract researchers and technologies." The letter was signed by biologists from across Texas, at both public and private universities.
And Alan I. Leshner, the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, drove the message home, writing in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (December 11, 2007): "As Texas prepares to reconsider what youngsters statewide should know about science, the forced ouster of science curriculum director Chris Comer of the Texas Education Agency, apparently for standing up for the integrity of science education, stands as both shocking and sad. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is the official explanation for it. ... Should anyone in charge of science curriculum be expected to remain neutral regarding efforts to insert religious viewpoints into science classrooms? The answer is 'no.' ... If today's students are to thrive, education leaders cannot pick and choose which scientific facts they want to accept."
A common theme in the coverage of the Comer controversy is that it foreshadows a clash over the place of evolution in the science portion of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the state science standards that determine both what is taught in Texas's public school science classrooms and the content of the biology textbooks approved for use in the state. The Dallas Morning News (December 13, 2007) summarized, "The resignation of the state's science curriculum director last month has signaled the beginning of what is shaping up to be a contentious and politically charged revision of the science curriculum, set to begin in earnest in January. ... in disciplinary paperwork [officials at the TEA] stressed that she needed to remain neutral in what was becoming a tense period leading up to the first review of the science curriculum in a decade."
Although creationists in Texas, including the chair of the Texas state board of education, Don McLeroy, have disavowed any intention of trying to include creationism in the TEKS, there are clear signs that they will press to include language attempting to instill scientifically unwarranted doubts about evolution. Mark Ramsey, representing a group styling itself Texans for Better Science Education, was characterized, for example, as wanting "weaknesses in evolution" to be taught. (Ramsey is also associated with the Greater Houston Creation Association, as Texas Citizens for Science reports.) NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott told the Morning News, "It all boils down to the idea that to counter evolution you teach students that evolution is crummy science in the hopes that students will reject it ... It's a way of getting creationism in without the 'C' word."
For her part, Comer told the Morning News, "Any science teacher worth their salt that has any background in biology will tell you there is no controversy" over the scientific status of evolution. That, she said, was her approach during her tenure at the TEA, where she frequently responded to questions about evolution education in Texas: "We have teachers afraid to teach it, parents who don't want it taught and parents who do want it taught. It comes from all different angles." She added, "For all the years I was there, I would always say the teaching of evolution is part of our science curriculum. It's not just a good idea; it's the law." But now she is not optimistic about the future of science education in Texas, lamenting, "The way things are being done these days I don't think rational minds have a chance."
For the Austin American-Statesman's latest story, visit: http://www.statesman.com/blogs/content/shared-gen/blogs/austin/editorial/entries/2007/12/14/official_i_was_looking_out_for.html
For Comer's appearance on "Science Friday" (audio), visit:
For John Marburger's comments to The New York Times, visit:
For the Dallas Morning News's interview with Commissioner Scott, visit:
For the memorandum recommending Comer's termination (PDF), visit:
For Barbara Forrest's statement and post at Oxford University Press's blog,
For the Society for the Study of Evolution's statement (PDF), visit:
For the Austin American-Statesman's story on the Texas biologists' statement, visit: http://www.statesman.com/news/content/region/legislature/stories/12/11/1211science.html
For the Texas biologists' statement itself (PDF), visit: http://alt.coxnewsweb.com/statesman/news/12/121107science_ltr_to_TEA_dir.pdf
For Alan I. Leshner's op-ed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, visit:
For the story in the Dallas Morning News, visit; http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/121307dnmetevolution.2af0951.html
For Texas Citizens for Science Education's report on Texans for Better
Science Education, visit:
And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:
CREATIONIST FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST WOODS HOLE
The Boston Globe (December 7, 2007) reports that a former researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is suing the research center, claiming that he was fired, in violation of his civil rights, for not accepting evolution. Nathaniel Abraham, who earned a Ph.D. in biology from St. John's University in 2005, was employed as a post-doctoral researcher in the laboratory of Mark Hahn; according to the Globe, "He was hired by Hahn's marine biology lab in March 2004 because of his expertise working with zebra fish and in toxicology and developmental biology, according to court documents. He did not tell anyone his creationist views before being hired."
Abraham's views become apparent to Hahn in a casual conversation in October 2004, however, and the next month, Hahn asked him in a letter to resign, citing Abraham's "wish not to work on evolutionary aspects of my grant" and writing, "You have indicated that you do not recognize the concept of biological evolution and you would not agree to include a full discussion of the evolutionary implications and interpretations of our research in any co-authored publications resulting from this work. ... This position is incompatible with the work as proposed to NIH and with my own vision of how it should be carried out and interpreted."
In June 2006, Abraham filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, which ruled against him in April 2007, stating that there was insufficient probable cause to find that Hahn and Woods Hole engaged in unlawful discriminatory practices. Represented by two lawyers, including David C. Gibbs III of the Christian Law Association (which seeks "to provide free legal assistance to Bible-believing churches and Christians who are experiencing legal difficulty in practicing their religious faith"), Abraham then filed suit in federal district court on November 30, 2007, alleging that his rights were violated under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
In his complaint, Abraham claims that acceptance of evolution "was in no way a bona fide occupational qualification of employment, was not previously mentioned or implied as a requisite of hiring, and was never listed among necessary criteria for the advertised position." In his November 2004 letter to Abraham, however, Hahn wrote, "The research proposed ... has as its foundation the orthologous and paralogous (i.e. evolutionary) relationships among aryl hydrocarbon receptor signaling proteins in the various species proposed as models. T he importance of these relationships is clearly evident in our previous papers, which were cited in the advertisement for the position, and in the grant proposal itself."
NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott told the Globe, "It is inconceivable that someone working in developmental biology at a major research institution would not be expected to deal intimately with evolution. ... A flight school hiring instructors wouldn't ask whether they accepted that the earth was spherical; they would assume it. Similarly, Woods Hole would have assumed that someone hired to work in developmental biology would accept that evolution occurred. It's part and parcel of the science these days." And the philosopher Michael Ruse was quoted as asking, "what is a person doing in an evolutionary lab when they don't believe in evolution ... and didn't tell anybody they didn't believe in evolution?"
For the story in the Boston Globe, visit:
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Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism
NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2007
SCIENCE STANDARDS DEBATE
Polk school officials a view of the origin of life they say is just as valid as intelligent design.
By John Chambliss
Dept.: Metro Desk
The Flying Spaghetti Monster has stretched its noodles to Polk County.
Plan to Require Evolution To Be Taught in Schools
The Flying Spaghetti Monster, or FSM, is a satirical group that pokes fun at intelligent design. It first emerged in 2005 during the debate in Kansas over whether the belief should be taught in science classes.
The group has sent dozens of e-mails to Polk County School Board members demanding that the idea of a Flying Spaghetti Monster creating the world receive classroom equal time with other views. The e-mail campaign began after four of seven board members said in November that they supported teaching intelligent design in addition to evolution.
While the idea that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world lacks backing in the scientific community, the point, according to those promoting the satire, is that neither does intelligent design.
FSM dates to 2005 when Oregon State University physics graduate Bobby Henderson sent a letter to the Kansas School Board saying "there are multiple theories of intelligent design."
"I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster," Henderson wrote.
"It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him."
Polk board members' support of intelligent design came to light after they learned the proposed science standards for Florida schools listed evolution and biological diversity as one of the "big ideas" that students need to know for a well-grounded science education.
Evolution, the theory that organic life developed and diversified through small changes over millions of years, is opposed by some evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews who believe in a literal biblical interpretation of the Earth's creation. Intelligent design holds that living organisms are so complex that they must have been created by some kind of higher force.
E-mails to board members can be seen on the Flying Spaghetti Monster Web site at www.venganza.org.
Here's one of the e-mails:
"I agree that children should be exposed to all sides of a scientific debate, but it is my fear you may leave out a theory that is equally as valid as traditional Intelligent Design," said one.
"I am of course referring to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I'm sure you all know that the theory of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has much greater support in the scientific community than traditional Intelligent Design. You would therefore be doing a grave disservice to the students of Polk County, and science in general, if you were to leave this ever so important theory out of your curriculum."
Most School Board members declined comment, or did not return phone messages when asked about e-mails or telephone calls from supporters or detractors of the proposed science standards.
Board member Frank O'Reilly, who supports the new science standards, said he received about 50 e-mails from FSM supporters. "It's a lot," O'Reilly said. "Most of them are from the spaghetti monster."
In an e-mail, Henderson said he can't explain the idea for the FSM.
"I tell people it was combination of lack of sleep and divine intervention," Henderson said. "But the church has evolved into what it is today."
Henderson said he put out the open letter in 2005 to the Kansas School Board as a joke and it "snowballed from there."
Now, Henderson said there are more than a million Google results for Flying Spaghetti Monster.
"No telling where we will be in 10 years, 100 years, 1,000 years," Henderson wrote. "I heard Christianity started as a joke, too ... so who knows?"
Henderson said about 95 percent of the 60,000 e-mails he's received are positive.
He keeps his home address a secret and has had a "few death threats'' that he was concerned about.
"But the majority of Christians don't have a problem with our Church," Henderson wrote. "We try to be as tolerant of their beliefs as they are of ours."
Known as Pastafarians, Flying Spaghetti Monster supporters dress up as pirates. The Web site sells shirts, iPod covers and car stickers.
Currently on the Web site, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is wearing a Santa Claus hat.
Conservative voices outside of Florida also have chimed in on the science standards debate.
CitizenLink.com, an arm of the James Dobson-led group, Focus on the Family, urged its readers to take action to include intelligent design in the classroom by e-mailing the state.
So far, at least one state board member said she will vote against the new standards. Donna Callaway said she will vote against the proposed standards because evolution "should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of origin of life," the St. Petersburg Times reported.
The state vote, which was planned for January, will likely be in February because two public meetings about the proposed standards were added in January.
The first meeting will be Jan. 3 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at The Schultz Center for Teaching and Leadership in Jacksonville, 4019 Boulevard Center Drive.
A second meeting will be Jan. 8 in Miramar from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Everglades High School. 17100 S.W. 48 Court.
The new standards have been praised by scientists. (To see the proposed standards go to www.flstandards.org.)
Lawrence S. Lerner, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at California State University in Long Beach, who has examined science standards in the various states, has graded Florida's proposed standards as a B+.
Lerner, who gave the previous standards an F, said that the proposals have the potential to be among the best in the nation.
"It's an enormous improvement," Lerner said. "The (current) standards were poorly written and bad all along."
The inclusion of evolution into the standards was imperative, Lerner said.
"When you ignore evolution, it is like trying to teach physics without Newton's Law," Lerner said. "It (evolution) is dealt with quite well (in the new standards)."
[ John Chambliss can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7588. ]
Last modified: December 11. 2007 8:22AM
By STACY MILLBERG - Staff Writer - firstname.lastname@example.org
Published December 11, 2007 08:23 pm A concerned parent questioned Pymatuning Valley Local School officials at Monday's meeting, as to how they are teaching the science curriculum regarding the theory of creationism.
ANDOVER — A concerned parent questioned Pymatuning Valley Local School officials at Monday's meeting, as to how they are teaching the science curriculum regarding the theory of creationism.
The parent, a Frank Piper, whose daughter is a PV Middle School fifth-grader, is concerned because the district is teaching the "big bang theory" of the creation of the universe and not presenting students with alternatives to Darwin's theory of evolution. Creationism, which posits that life is too complex to be explained by evolution alone, and its place in public school curricula, has been a highly debated issue in Ohio and elsewhere for several years.
The issue really came to light two years ago when a U.S. District Court judge in Pennsylvania ruled intelligent design, or creationism, cannot be mentioned in public-school biology classes there. The judge ruled that Dover Area School Board members violated the U.S. Constitution when the board ordered that the biology curriculum must include that life on Earth was produced by an intelligent cause they could not identify.
Piper said his daughter is a straight A student and failed her test on the "big bang theory" because she didn't understand it.
"We're Christians," he said. "I couldn't even help her because I don't understand it."
Board of Education President Brad Lane said he was under the impression the district was teaching both sides of the issue, but PV Middle School Principal Andrew Kuthy said that is not the case.
"We teach what is out of the state curriculum," Kuthy said.
The Ohio Board of Education created the state public school curriculum, and public schools are obligated to follow it, he said.
Superintendent Jake Rose said the district would look into whether it could teach both views as part of the curriculum. Rose said he was going to do some research on the issue and speak with the district's science consultant as to where the state stands on the issue.
"The big-bang theory has been around forever, but (the parent is) right; it's just a theory," Rose said.
Posted on Tue, Dec. 11, 2007
By ALAN I. LESHNER
Special to the Star-Telegram
As Texas prepares to reconsider what youngsters statewide should know about science, the forced ouster of science curriculum director Chris Comer of the Texas Education Agency, apparently for standing up for the integrity of science education, stands as both shocking and sad. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is the official explanation for it.
Comer's forwarding of an e-mail about a lecture by Barbara Forrest, author of the book Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse, apparently rubbed some TEA higher-ups the wrong way. The agency must, after all, "remain neutral," according to a memo calling for Comer's termination. Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe later went on to explain how "there's been a long-standing policy that the pros and cons of scientific theory must be taught."
These comments -- suggesting that scientific facts based on indisputable physical evidence are somehow subject to debate on nonscientific grounds -- are especially troubling in a state known for its innovation and filled with high-quality research universities.
Everyone has a constitutional right to interpret the origins of life based on Christian or any other doctrine. Religious discussion might be perfectly appropriate in theology or philosophy classes.
But scientific theory is based on facts, and creationism and intelligent design are not. If educators remain neutral about sticking to science in science classrooms, they will surely wind up confusing students about the nature of science versus religion.
Evolution describes how Earth's life forms gradually arose from common ancestors, beginning with one-celled organisms billions of years ago. It is a core concept, based on robust evidence such as radiometric measurements of the ages of Earth's rocks as well as meteorites and moon rocks. These tell us that our solar system formed 4.55 billion years ago, probably after a major supernova explosion. The first life on Earth emerged between 3.5 billion and 3.8 billion years ago.
Intelligent design advocates hypothesize that some natural events and structures are so complex that they must have been the work of an intervening supernatural agent. Others believe that the universe and all its inhabitants appeared in their current forms within the past 10,000 years.
In a free country, there's room for both religion and science. The scientific acceptance of evolution is compatible with the religious views of many Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu believers.
As geneticist Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian and director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, has said, "Faith is the way to understand questions that science can't answer, like 'Why are we all here? Why does it matter? Is there a God, and does he care about me?'"
Did Comer show poor judgment in forwarding that e-mail? Possibly -- if only because former Bush administration official Lizzette Reynolds immediately demanded Comer's termination. But, the more important question is this: Should anyone in charge of science curriculum be expected to remain neutral regarding efforts to insert religious viewpoints into science classrooms? The answer is "no."
American competitiveness depends upon providing the best possible science education for all students. This point seems well-understood by business leaders and by policymakers such as U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who helped pass the America COMPETES Act, authorizing the recruitment of 10,000 science and math teachers.
If today's students are to thrive, education leaders cannot pick and choose which scientific facts they want to accept. We urge the state's education leaders to help prevent children from becoming stragglers in this age of science and technology.
Alan I. Leshner is the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of the journal Science.
The pace has been increasing since people started spreading through Europe, Asia and Africa 40,000 years ago.
By Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 11, 2007
The pace of human evolution has been increasing at a stunning rate since our ancestors began spreading through Europe, Asia and Africa 40,000 years ago, quickening to 100 times historical levels after agriculture became widespread, according to a study published today.
By examining more than 3 million variants of DNA in 269 people, researchers identified about 1,800 genes that have been widely adopted in relatively recent times because they offer some evolutionary benefit.
Until recently, anthropologists believed that evolutionary pressure on humans eased after the transition to a more stable agrarian lifestyle. But in the last few years, they realized the opposite was true -- diseases swept through societies in which large groups lived in close quarters for a long time.
Altogether, the recent genetic changes account for 7% of the human genome, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The advantage of all but about 100 of the genes remains a mystery, said University of Wisconsin-Madison anthropologist John Hawks, who led the study. But the research team was able to conclude that infectious diseases and the introduction of new foods were the primary reasons that some genes swept through populations with such speed.
"If there were not a mismatch between the population and the environment, there wouldn't be any selection," Hawks said. "Dietary changes, disease changes -- those create circumstances where selection can happen."
One of the most famous examples is the spread of a gene that allows adults to digest milk.
Though children were able to drink milk, they typically developed lactose intolerance as they grew up. But after cattle and goats were domesticated in Europe and yaks and mares were domesticated in Asia, adults with a mutation that allowed them to digest milk had a nutritional advantage over those without.
As a result, they were more likely to have healthy offspring, prompting the mutation to spread, Hawks said.
The mechanism also explains why genetic resistance to malaria has spread among Africans -- who live where disease-carrying mosquitoes are prevalent -- but not among Europeans or Asians.
Most of the genetic changes the researchers identified were found in only one geographic group or another. Races as we know them today didn't exist until fewer than 20,000 years ago, when genes involved in skin pigmentation emerged, Hawks said. Paler skin allowed people in northern latitudes to absorb more sunlight to make vitamin D.
"As populations expanded into new environments, the pressures faced in those environments would have been different," said Noah Rosenberg, a human geneticist at the University of Michigan, who wasn't involved in the study. "So it stands to reason that in different parts of the world, different genes will appear to have experienced natural selection."
Hawks and colleagues from UC Irvine, the University of Utah and Santa Clara-based gene chip maker Affymetrix Inc. examined genetic data collected by the International HapMap Consortium, which cataloged single-letter differences among the 3 billion letters of human DNA in people of Nigerian, Japanese, Chinese and European descent.
The researchers looked for long stretches of DNA that were identical in many people, suggesting that a gene was widely adopted and that it spread relatively recently, before random mutations among individuals had a chance to occur.
They found that the more the population grew, the faster human genes evolved. That's because more people created more opportunities for a beneficial mutation to arise, Hawks said.
In the last 5,000 to 10,000 years, as agriculture was able to support increasingly large societies, the rate of evolutionary change rose to more than 100 times historical levels, the study concluded.
Among the fastest-evolving genes were those related to brain development, but the researchers aren't sure what made them so desirable, Hawks said.
There are other mysteries too.
"Nobody 10,000 years ago had blue eyes," Hawks said. "Why is it that blue-eyed people had a 5% advantage in reproducing compared to non-blue-eyed people? I have no idea."
By Brandon Keim December 10, 2007 | 2:41:25
Was Iowa State University astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez denied tenure because of his belief in intelligent design, which denies evolution and insists that science points to a divine creator of life's building blocks?
Gonzalez says he was. The pro-ID Discovery Institute, at which Gonzalez is a fellow, portray him as the victim of a religious witchhunt. The University insists that his tenure process was fair and intelligent design, or ID, was not a factor. At least one colleague considers the controversy to be a cynical attempt to promote ID as science.
As I learn more about the case, I'm inclined to believe the University's side. Gonzalez's grant record was absolutely awful; the Mid-Iowa News reported that over six years, he secured just $22,661 in external research grants. His colleagues averaged $1.3 million over the same time. The Discovery Institute says Gonzalez was persecuted, but it seems they're just using his case to push intelligent design -- legally designated as religion -- as science.
After reading emails written by Iowa State scientists considering a public denunciation of intelligent design, I emailed some of Gonzalez's colleagues. "As I learn more about the Discovery Institute's apparent end-run into the high school science textbook industry, I become more sympathetic to the position that association with the DI ought to be grounds for academy disqualification," I wrote. "But I'm also aware that many fine scientists have held crackpot beliefs -- Francis Crick and galactic panspermia, for example -- so perhaps some tolerance is necessary. Was Gonzalez treated fairly? If ID was a factor in the review process, was that appropriate? And do you see ID as dangerous to science, and its proponents (especially members of the Discovery Institute) as working, however well-meaningly, against science?"
Bruce Harmon, director of Iowa State's Center for Physical and Computational Mathematics -- physics and astronomy share a department at the school -- wrote back. Attached to his email was a quote from Discovery Institute senior fellow William Dembski:
This may seem unfair and mean-spirited, but let's admit that our aim, as proponents of intelligent design, is to beat naturalistic evolution, and the scientific materialism that undergirds it, back to the Stone Age. Our opponents, therefore, are merely returning the favor.
How, then, do we effectively handle the attacks and abuse that increasingly are being sent our way? A sports analogy, for me, captures the essential insight. Consider an athletic contest between two teams. For definiteness, let's say soccer. The other team is abusing your team, especially your star players. They're constantly talking trash, constantly trying to trip you up. When the referee isn't looking, expect a knee in the groin or an elbow in the eye. In response, you've got three options: (1) respond in kind; (2) complain to the referee; (3) score. The first two options are dead-ends. The third is supremely satisfying and moves the ID program forward. Some recent notable "scores" for the ID movement have been the PBS broadcast of Unlocking the Mystery of Life, the decision by the Ohio board of education to permit weaknesses and criticisms of evolutionary theory to be taught, and the publication of The Privileged Planet by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards.
The Gonzalez case will likely go to court because the Discovery Institute has such a stake in it. [...] There are a number of references and lots of background material available on the "Intelligent Design" and "Discovery Institute" entries in Wikipedia on line. The attached quote can be traced from there. Also, if you have not yet read "The Wedge" document on the strategy of the Discovery Institute for replacing the current scientific culture with Intelligent Design, then you might find it sobering. You can find reference to it and download it from the Wikipedia site. I do wonder after you read the attached quote from Dembski and hopefully follow up on some of the information on Wikipedia, if you will still continue to use the words "however well-meaningly."
In spite of all this, it is of course possible that Guillermo Gonzalez is, as you say, maybe a 'crackpot' or at least "crazy" enough to be doing great science or coming up with great ideas, even if the package is coated with questionable ID lingo. I sincerely believe that most of my colleagues could, and would, have overlooked the ID if there was great, really good, or even really promising science involved. The consensus you know. You ask if ID was a factor. I suspect it was to the extent that Dr. Gonzalez has said in at least one seminar that he believes ID is science and that he uses it to do his science. I don't believe it was the dominant factor among most of my colleagues. Dr. Gonzalez has said that he does not teach it in his classrooms because it is controversial. Indeed, considering the Dover case with the Discovery Institutes involvement and also other national news, it would be strange if the topic did not come up.
Today, the Iowa State Daily published a letter to the editor from another of Gonzalez's colleagues, astronomy professor Joerg Schmailian. He wrote,
To deny tenure to a colleague is a very painful experience. It literally causes sleepless nights to those who are forced to make a responsible decision. Faculty candidates who are being hired in our department always come with promising backgrounds and terrific accomplishments. The decision to recommend or deny tenure is then predominantly based on research performance while at Iowa State.
As far as I can judge, this was no different in Gonzalez's case. What I know with certainty is that Gonzalez's views on intelligent design, with which I utterly disagree, had no bearing whatsoever on my vote on his tenure case.
More than 100 college professors say state education officials shouldn't have to take neutral stance on evolution.
By Laura Heinauer
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
More than 100 biology faculty members from universities across Texas signed a letter sent Monday to state Education Commissioner Robert Scott saying Texas Education Agency employees should not have to remain neutral on evolution.
The letter is in response to the departure of science curriculum director Chris Comer, who says she was forced to resign days after forwarding an e-mail that her superiors said made the agency appear biased against the idea that life is a result of intelligent design.
"I'm an evolutionary biologist, and I and many others simply feel that good evolution education is key to understanding biology as a whole," said Daniel Bolnick of the University of Texas, who has been collecting signatures since last week.
In addition to UT faculty, the signers include professors from Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Texas State, Rice and Baylor universities and the universities of North Texas and Houston.
"As educators, we simply feel strongly that scientifically sound information be taught in public schools, and certainly having people sympathetic to quality evolution education at the TEA is important," Bolnick said. Having students in his classes without a basic grounding in evolutionary theory is comparable to having students in college-level math courses who haven't learned algebra, he said.
David Hillis, a UT professor of integrative biology who also signed the letter, said, "I think it is a clear sign of how far we have slipped into scientific illiteracy in this country when a science director at the Texas Education Agency is fired for merely forwarding an e-mail about a talk related to science education. It is extraordinarily unfortunate and inappropriate that religious views are dictating hiring and firing decisions at the Texas Education Agency.
"This is an enormous black eye in terms of our competitiveness and ability to attract researchers and technologies," Hillis said.
The concept of intelligent design holds that life is so complex that it must have been created by a higher authority.
State officials, meanwhile, maintain that Comer's resignation was due to a pattern of not following agency policies.
In a November memorandum recommending that she be terminated, Comer's superiors cited comments she made about leadership at the agency and a failure to get approval before making speeches and presenting slideshows.
It also cited her decision to forward an e-mail sent to her by a pro-evolution group that announced a speech about the intelligent design movement in schools. The deputy commissioner for statewide policy and programs, Lizzette Reynolds, showed the e-mail to Comer's supervisors, calling it an "offense that calls for termination."
Days later, Comer resigned.
Personnel documents released Monday under the Texas Public Information Act offer further insight into her career at the agency. In 2003, Comer was put on disciplinary probation for one year after she accepted travel reimbursement from grants that she was responsible for administering. The issue was not brought up in the termination memorandum.
In separate reviews, she was chastised for spending too much time at conferences; however, she was also given several merit raises and got high marks in other areas.
Although Comer's failure to consistently follow professional standards has been cited as an issue, Scott and other officials declined to be specific, saying they fear being sued.
"I am really frustrated with the issue, knowing the truth and not being able to talk about it," Scott said.
Comer, who said Monday that she is considering a defamation suit, added that the only time she was reprimanded recently was in February, after she attended a meeting of science educators without getting prior approval.
"Did I question them when they said things that I thought were wrong? Yes, I did that," Comer said. "I did speak up for myself. I was not a shrinking violet. But then, as the director of science, I thought it was important to hear my expert opinions of what is going on."
email@example.com; 445-3694. Additional material from staff writer Alberta Brooks.
An Education Department official used her position to oppose the science standard.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published December 8, 2007
The debate over evolution, creation and Florida's science standards has grown increasingly heated as a decision nears, and a state Department of Education manager who has waded into it now finds herself in hot water.
Selena "Charlie" Carraway, program manager for the department's Office of Instructional Materials, recently used her personal e-mail on personal time to send a missive urging fellow Christians to fight the proposal to include evolution as a "key idea" in the science curriculum.
But she invoked her position as a way to, in her words, "give this e-mail credibility." And that, it turns out, is a no-no.
"It is inappropriate for any department employee to use their public position to advocate their personal positions," department spokesman Tom Butler said Friday. "Ms. Carraway has been counseled."
That means human resources personnel met with Carraway and warned her not to do this again, but she remains on the job.
That's quite a different result than the one that befell the Texas Education Agency's director of science for a similar situation.
Last month, Christine Comer was forced to resign from her job in Texas after forwarding an e-mail announcement of a speech by an author who favored teaching evolution. In several articles, Comer blamed evolution politics for her fate in Texas, which also is reviewing its science standards.
Observers familiar with both situations said it looked like Carraway, more than Comer, had done something deserving of reprimand. They praised the Florida Education Department for acting with restraint.
"They behaved with much more proportionality," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the pro-evolution National Center for Science Education. "Indeed, Ms. Carraway should not use her public position to promote her religious position. ... Now she has a second chance, and hopefully she'll behave more responsibly."
Joe Wolf, president of the pro-evolution Florida Citizens for Science, agreed.
"I think she's allowing her religious beliefs to interfere with her public duty," Wolf said. "I wish she hadn't done it. But I think it's an internal matter."
Scott and Wolf both observed that such restraint can be difficult in this charged atmosphere.
Carraway did not respond to several requests for an interview. Butler said he confirmed that the e-mail in question, which has been widely distributed across Florida, came from her.
Here's how she introduced herself:
"My name is Charlie Carraway, and I'm a member of Sopchoppy Southern Baptist Church, Sopchoppy, Florida, but I also work for the Florida Department of Education as the Director of the Office of Instructional Materials," Carraway wrote. "That means I oversee the adoption process of books and materials in the state, and I work in close proximity to the folks in the Office of Mathematics and Science, who have been in charge of the revision of the science standards. I say all of this, obviously, to give this e-mail credibility."
Carraway detailed the proposed standards, which have won accolades from scientists, and provided ways to contact the State Board of Education.
"Once these become adopted standards and benchmarks, FCAT assessment will be based on them," she wrote. "Districts will not have a choice in teaching evolution as a theory, but will be expected to teach it as stated in these standards, big ideas, and benchmarks. ... Whose agenda is this and will the Christians in Florida care enough to do something about it?"
She ended by urging recipients to lobby against the standards, ending, "The least we can do is make sure evolution is presented to our children and grandchildren as a theory as it has been in the past. Hopefully, though, we can do better than that." Carraway was not part of the committee that recommended the science standards.
Carraway is just the latest public official to get embroiled in the controversy, which has gained national attention. The Polk County School Board has stated it might allow alternatives to evolution to be in its schools, and State Board of Education member Donna Callaway gained attention for her statement that evolution "should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of origins of life."
The State Board of Education is expected to vote on the proposed science standards early in 2008. The public can comment on the proposals through Dec. 14 at www.flstandards.org.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.
[Last modified December 8, 2007, 01:45:24]
By The Editorial Board | Saturday, December 8, 2007, 12:00 PM
The Texas Education Agency could use a lesson in science. It needs look no farther than the University of Texas — only two blocks away — where some of the country's most renowned scientists and researchers teach and work.
It's best that TEA officials and the State Board of Education hear this message from the experts: Evolution is science; intelligent design is not. Base curriculum standards on science-tested principles and not on religious beliefs.
"Living things are what they are because they evolved that way over billions of years. There is no scientific controversy here," said Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Prize-winning professor of physics and astronomy at UT.
David Hillis, UT professor of integrative biology that includes evolution, put it this way: "There is absolutely no scientific basis or evidence for 'intelligent design.' It is simply a religious assertion, and it has no place in a science course."
Scientists are concerned about the integrity of the science curriculum for Texas public schools — and for good reason. Their concerns were triggered by the recent departure of the TEA's director of the state's science curriculum. Veteran science teacher Chris Castillo Comer was forced to resign her TEA post after forwarding an e-mail to her contacts about an upcoming talk by a vocal critic of intelligent design.
TEA officials have said that Comer's work performance was an issue. But there is no doubt that the e-mail incident riled an influential boss at TEA and played a role in Comer's resignation.
Lizzette Reynolds, TEA's deputy commissioner for statewide policy and programs, wrote that Comer's action amounted to "an offense that calls for termination."
Ponder that: Reynolds wrote that Comer should be fired for forwarding the e-mail. In trying to clear up that embarrassment, TEA spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said employees were verbally warned to be careful when dealing with issues that might come up as part of the upcoming curriculum adoption process. State Board of Education members will begin overhauling science standards for kindergarten through 12th grade next month. Evolution is hardly an abstract theory; it is quite relevant in the modern day study of human diseases, Hillis said, and the development of vaccines and human pathogens.
Current science standards specify that students be taught biological evolution, and TEA Commissioner Robert Scott told us there is no reason to believe that new standards would not do the same. If that is true, then why shouldn't anyone at the agency be permitted to pass along information that is helpful in debunking myths about intelligent design?
The confusion over intelligent design being an alternative scientific theory to evolution persists despite a court case two years ago in which a Pennsylvania judge ruled that schools could not teach intelligent design, which was really just "creationism relabeled."
We had hoped that the TEA and state education board were enlightened by Weinberg and other prominent scientists a few years ago when they testified that intelligent design didn't belong in the science textbooks the board was adopting at the time. But here we go again.
The firing of Comer already has done real damage to Texas' reputation as it competes with California and New York for research and development projects, grants, biomedical industries and the nation's best scientists. Blogs by researchers have cast Texas as a backwater state that puts religious ideology on par with science.
Instead of warning employees against standing up for science, TEA and the state board should be focused on repairing that damage and preventing it from spreading to the curriculum, where it could set back science education for Texas students.
09:47 AM CST on Sunday, December 9, 2007
Our Q & A with Robert Scott, education commissioner of the Texas Education Agency in Austin. He spoke about last month's dismissal of Christine Comer, the agency's director of science curriculum, after she forwarded an e-mail to colleagues about a lecture advocating the science of evolution over creationism.
This issue has generated nationwide coverage and criticism. Are people's concerns unjustified that Ms. Comer's bosses appear to be imposing a religious or political agenda at the agency?
I'm aware of the reports and a bit disturbed by them because they're not based in reality or fact. It's speculation as to motivation [for her dismissal], speculation as to outcome, speculation as to whether we're going to try to hire somebody with a political bent. There are no litmus tests for employment at TEA. This is not about the curriculum standards. ... The political ideology – or lack thereof – or the religious nature of a staffer at the agency is irrelevant to the process.
Is it true she was forced to resign just because she forwarded that e-mail message without even commenting on it?
That's an absolute falsehood. It's a personnel matter. The really frustrating part about this is, if I start talking about activities and things that happened, I get sued. So all I can say is that there are other factors, and I understand that certain interest groups would like to pick upon that one issue and make it the issue of the day. ... That's their business, but that's not how we're running the agency.
Was her advocacy of evolution over creationism an element in her dismissal?
She wasn't advocating anything. My understanding is that the e-mail she forwarded – let me rephrase that. She wasn't advocating for evolution. But she may have given the impression that ... we were taking a position as an agency – not as an individual but as an agency – on a matter.
Why shouldn't the agency advocate the science of evolution? Texas students are required to study it.
I don't think the impression was that we were taking a position in favor of evolution. We teach evolution in public schools. It's part of our curriculum. But you can be in favor of a science without bashing people's faith, too. I don't know all the facts, but I think that may be the real issue here. I can't speak to motivation but ... we have standards of conduct and expect those standards of conduct to be followed.
Web Posted: 12/10/2007 12:26 AM CST
San Antonio Express-News
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently released the results of a test that assesses science and math skills of students in 30 industrialized countries. The results showed American students scored in the bottom half — worse than their peers from 16 other countries, and better than only those from Italy, Portugal, Greece, Turkey and Mexico.
U.S. students do not reach "the baseline level of achievement ... at which students begin to demonstrate the science competencies that will enable them to participate actively in life situations related to science and technology," the report says. The comparative results for math were even worse.
Many explanations exist for the lagging performance in science by American students. One that cannot be avoided is that some of the adults who are responsible for their science educations don't take science seriously enough.
Christine Comer was a science teacher for 27 years. And for nine years until last month, she was the Texas Education Agency's director of science. She says she was forced to resign because — hold on to your monkey trials — she failed to show impartiality in the debate between advocates of intelligent design and evolution.
Specifically, the Austin-American Statesman reported, she forwarded an e-mail to a pro-evolution group announcing a speech by Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University. Forrest served as a key witness in a Pennsylvania court case that found intelligent design lacked sufficient evidence to be included in a scientific curriculum.
That puts Forrest and Comer at odds with some members of the State Board of Education. "Employees have to be able to work with all the members in a fair way without the perception that they are siding with one group or another," spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe told the newspaper. "That's why it's important for us to be neutral on issues and just to say what the policy is and not to create it ourselves."
Ratcliffe obviously didn't catch the irony of the "create it ourselves" line. The real issue, however, is not group dynamics. There's a place for faith, and a place for science. And the two shouldn't mix in public school classrooms.
Do Texans truly want their educators to be neutral on the teaching of religious faith versus science in schools? If so, then the State Board of Education and the Texas Education Agency are well on their way to making students in Italy, Portugal, Greece, Turkey and Mexico feel proud.
By Robyn Blumner Tribune Media Services
Article Last Updated: 12/08/2007 12:48:25 PM MST
What happened to Christine Comer makes me wonder whether America is really emerging from its Age of Unenlightenment.
Comer was forced to resign her position as director of science at the Texas Education Agency because she forwarded an e-mail about a lecture on the fallacy of "intelligent design" and creationism as a scientifically grounded alternative to evolution. Comer, who spent 27 years as a science teacher and had been in her post at the agency for nine years, was told that the agency must remain "neutral" on the subject.
Neutral? Are they kidding? On the one hand you have a theory that has been successfully tested using the scientific method for more than 100 years and whose accuracy has been repeatedly affirmed by the vast fields of biology and genetics. On the other hand you have a hypothesis that relies on supernatural intervention for which there has been no legitimate scientific testing or objective proof.
Florida is also now in a dust-up because the teaching of evolution has been included in its proposed science standards. Donna Callaway, a member of the state Board of Education - appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush - said she'll oppose the new standards because of it.
Really folks, in this information age, when scientific innovation is the key to our nation's future, we don't have the time to be mucking around in this tired debate. You don't produce doctors and scientists by teaching science from the Bible. Period.
Not surprisingly, a former advisor to George Bush as Texas governor, who also worked in his federal Department of Education, provoked the Comer witch hunt. Lizzette Reynolds, deputy commissioner for statewide policy and programs, complained about Comer's e-mail and called for her termination.
These are the kinds of dim-witted people that have been elevated to key posts in the Bush administration, marking it as one promoting loopy religiosity over fact and evidence.
Think about some of the administration's policies that have emanated from President Bush's radical religious views:
The suspension of most federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. (Bush to Parkinson's patients: Drop dead!)
The spending of hundreds of millions of dollars on demonstrably useless abstinence-only sex education. (Why Johnny has herpes.)
The effort to prevent emergency contraception from being sold over the counter. (How to guarantee increased abortions.)
And the retraction of appropriated international family planning money. (Ditto.)
Bush's Iraq "crusade" is perhaps the most disturbing example of his Christian Manichaeism, but even his administration's long-standing antagonism toward the evidence of manmade global warming has religious overtones, with a hint of The-End-Times-Are-Nigh lack of interest in its consequences.
Yet in every case where the administration ignored objective fact or science in favor of religion, Bush took this country down the wrong path, harming people's lives and endangering health.
The "salvation" for those of us in the reality-based community is that the Bush administration is soon looking at its last year in office, and maybe, finally, the war on science is also coming to an end.
But maybe not.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is gaining as a GOP presidential contender. He may be a friendly face, but the ordained Baptist minister is no friend to reason. In the Republican primary debate last May, he was one of three in the field to raise his hand to proclaim that he does not believe in evolution.
In a later debate, Huckabee rejected for himself the belief that we are "descendants of a primate," magnanimously suggesting that it was OK if others chose to believe it. Gee, thanks.
Pretty much all the presidential candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, are freely spouting off about the centrality of faith in their lives (with Mitt Romney promising that his is not too weird), but it is only Huckabee who is the dogma-driven real deal - a man who as president would follow in Bush's anti-science, anti-intellectual footsteps, a man who would feel "chosen" for the job and licensed by a power higher than the will of the voters.
The mission-zeal with which Bush has arrogated power and his maniacal unwillingness to compromise is packaged righteousness, pure and simple. Remember that Bush said he appealed to a "higher father" for strength when journalist Bob Woodward asked him if he'd consulted his father before invading Iraq.
Who needs information grounded in experience when you have prayer and prophesy?
And Huckabee would be Bush redux.
Here is something scary-ignorant. Last week, the Web site ChristiaNet.com, which bills itself as "the world's largest Christian portal," cheered the results of a survey it took finding that half of its 1,400 Christian respondents said that dinosaurs and man roamed the Earth at the same time.
Putting aside that the schoolteachers of these people should be slapped silly, these are Huckabee's peeps. We can't afford to put this kind of backward thinking and scientific illiteracy in the driver's seat again.
You can respond to Robyn's column at email@example.com.
Last updated at 1:18 AM on 09/12/07
PETER JACKSON The Telegram
PBS recently aired a "Nova" special on the famous Dover, Pa., federal case that pitted parents against each other over a school board decision to introduce intelligent design into science class.
The 2005 trial represented the latest battleground in the ongoing war over science and education that first hit U.S. courts with the Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925.
So far, the judiciary has always ruled in favour of evolutionists — or, more accurately, against the introduction of religious doctrine in the classroom. The separation of church and state is a constitutional principle in U.S. law, and it applies to public schools as well as all other public institutions.
At first, the debate over intelligent design in Dover was limited to heated board meetings at which board members and parents launched salvos back and forth.
Eventually, boxes of the "Panda" book mysteriously showed up at schools. Science teachers could not be forced to include it in the curriculum, but the board eventually mandated that a short statement be read at the beginning of the year to students. The statement charged that evolution was only a theory, and encouraged students to examine the claims of intelligent design as an alternative. In at least one case, a board member actually strode into the classroom and read the statement himself when the teacher refused to do so.
This was the last straw for parents. Eleven of them launched a lawsuit and the case went before Federal Court Justice John E. Jones. Over the next month and a half, the court was transformed into a classroom in which the very foundations of scientific inquiry were put under a microscope.
The Dover case provided an intriguing window on the "theory" of intelligent design and its goal of becoming a legitimate scientific alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution. The terms "God" or "creation" are nowhere to be found in any of the language used by its proponents, nor in a so-called textbook they tout titled "Of Pandas and People."
The essential goal of the prosecution in Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. was to prove that either by intent or by design, the school board was introducing religion into a classroom setting. What had to be demonstrated, therefore, was either that the board officials knew intelligent design was really religion under a different name, or that its introduction, regardless of intent, had the effect of imposing religious instruction in the school.
In the end, the prosecution proved both.
Proving that intelligent design is not science was hardly a challenge. The notion posits the existence of an intelligent "agent" designing organisms as fully formed, functioning beings. There is nothing testable about it. It is not derived from rigid inquiry. Likewise, it cannot predict events in the natural world because it stems from a premise that stands apart from the natural world, i.e. a designing agent.
The language of intelligent design is, of course, really a veiled rewording of creationist doctrine. It presents the same ideas in terms that are carefully constructed to avoid the religious lexicon.
Perhaps the most striking moments in the Dover court case arose when prosecutors probed the intent behind board members' actions. The defendants vehemently denied any intention of imposing religious doctrine, but their denials were contradicted by statements they had made early in the debate.
Prosecutors even subpoenaed early drafts of "Of Pandas and People" to see whether there was evidence of similar intent by its authors. A professor — Barbara Forrest — was hired to pore through thousands of pages of drafts and revisions. Eventually, she uncovered the smoking gun.
An early draft of the book contained parallel sentences in which the word "creation" was replaced by the term "intelligent design." The changes had been prompted by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1987 that disallowed the teaching of creationism in schools.
Incredibly, one draft of the book even included a hastily changed reference in which part of the old word "creationist" was retained, resulting in a typo: "cdesign proponentsists." Critics gleefully refer to the misprint as the "missing link" in the evolution of creationism.
The most disturbing thing about intelligent design, therefore, is its lack of honesty.
Far from being a credible effort to establish a scientific alternative to evolution — or even a broad attempt to examine the metaphysical foundations of science itself — it is, rather, a deliberate and underhanded attempt to wedge the notion of creation back into the epistemological dialogue. In fact, the hub of the intelligent design movement, the Discovery Institute, has developed what it calls the "wedge strategy," which aims, in no uncertain terms, to overthrow what it sees as godless materialism and replace it with fundamental Christian doctrine.
For such people, court cases like those in Dover only represent the thin edge of the wedge. If the determination of the intelligent design camp is any indication, expect more Dovers down the road.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on Fri, Dec. 07, 2007
By Bud Kennedy STAR-TELEGRAM
To heck with what's in your wallet.
What's in your kid's science textbook?
If the ruling mullahs in Austin get their way, creation theology will be there, no matter whether we want religion mixed with classroom science.
Gov. Rick Perry already said that he supports teaching "intelligent design" - the belief that a higher power had a hand in creation.
He called it a "valid scientific theory."
Perry, of course, has a Texas A&M University degree in science - animal science.
His degree certainly should help him identify the BS that came out of the Texas Education Agency recently.
On the eve of a rewrite of school science curriculum, the state director of science curriculum resigned under pressure, punished for forwarding an e-mail about a speech criticizing creationism.
Those who believe in teaching creation as science often argue that both sides of a debate should be heard.
Yet when Christine Castillo Comer, a former science teacher, forwarded an e-mail announcing a public speech by creationism critic Barbara Forrest, suddenly that side no longer needed to be heard.
Comer, 57, landed in the cross hairs of Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds, the TEA's acting deputy commissioner. Reynolds complained that Comer's e-mail "calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment. .... It assumes this is a subject that the agency supports."
TEA officials have said that Comer had been warned, and that employees have been told, not to take sides on the validity of evolution.
An agency official will rewrite the science curriculum next year, presumably to match Perry's view and that of religious conservatives on the state school board.
Texas already teaches evolution as a theory.
The question is whether it is science's only theory.
Kevin Fisher, the science coordinator for Lewisville schools, is a past president of Texas science teachers.
"The most astonishing part of this is that the Texas Education Agency would want science classes to remain neutral between evolution, which is science, and creationism, which is religion," Fisher said. "I think everybody in Texas wants a 21st-century education for our children. Bringing creationism into the classroom is 15th-century education."
Creationism has a place in church, Fisher said, but not in science classes.
Comer, a former San Antonio middle school science teacher, had been the state director of science curriculum for nine years.
Reynolds, the TEA adviser who complained, apparently has no teaching experience.
According to her résumé, she has a degree in political science. She worked for a Panhandle state senator and as a lobbyist before moving to then-Gov. George W. Bush's office and on to Washington and the Department of Education.
Returning to Austin this year, she was hired by the TEA and is now listed as an acting deputy commissioner for statewide policy and programs, overseeing state testing and educator standards.
For Barbara Forrest, the Louisiana philosophy professor mentioned in the e-mail, the news of Comer's resignation is chilling.
"It's scary when science has become so politicized that simply mentioning a lecture can cost someone her job," Forrest said by phone from Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, La.
Along with co-author Paul R. Gross, a former University of Virginia provost and biology professor, she wrote Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. The book argues that evangelicals want creationism taught as science to wedge religion into school.
"What happened in Texas is absurd," Gross said, calling from Massachusetts. "To have forced out a longtime administrator is low-class."
Instead of a science lesson today, let's all sing that old classic from the governor's hymn book:
Gimme that old-time ... politics.
Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 email@example.com
By Brandon Keim December 10, 2007 | 11:36:36
Controversies over the classroom role of evolution in Texas and Florida could set a national precedent, say science education watchdogs.
Texas, where a former Bush appointee led the dismissal of a pro-evolution education official, and Florida, where evolution-friendly science standards are under attack, will both revise their science education standards in the next year. Along with California, they're the largest textbook markets in the nation. If they want texts describing evolution as an unproven assumption, publishers will make them -- and other states will buy the same books by default.
Is the Discovery Institute -- the creationist think tank that promotes as science the theory of intelligent design, which posits a divine explanation for the origins of life -- using Texas and Florida as an entry to the nation's classrooms? I posed the question to Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education, Florida Citizens for Science president Joe Wolf and Fordham Institute science education expert Lawrence Lerner.
The DI has a long history of involvement with the Texas standards process and with textbook adoption in Texas.... Because of the size of the Texas textbook market, and because many other states follow their lead, publishers generally follow whatever direction Texas points them in.
... I haven't seen any evidence of the Discovery Institute getting involved [in Florida]. The DI tends to be stealthier about their religious motives than the folks opposing the standards have been thus far. My fear is that Florida will do something like happened in Kansas a couple years ago, with the Board of Education overruling the decisions made by the expert committee appointed to draft the new standards.
Wolf wasn't quite so sure that growing public opposition to Florida's proposed science standards is unrelated to the Discovery Institute.
We have seen what we think is some involvement of DI here in Florida, but it is all supposition on my part. For example, Fred Cutting, an engineer from over in Pinellas, wrote a letter to the framers committee (he is on that committee). I personally don't think he wrote the letter himself or alone. We have also had over the last year or so lectures about ID from people associated with DI.
But we have had no information that DI is involved in the letter writing campaigns to the state board. It seems more like DOE, churches and maybe some Christian colleges are pushing this.
(Cutting's letter to the framers committee -- one of the two committees charged with drafting the state's new science standards -- was mentioned in this Christian Post article. Wrote Cutting, a retired engineer who has taught intelligent design to high school students, "Students should learn why some scientists give scientific critiques of standard models of neo-Darwinian evolution.")
Lawrence Lerner said Florida and Texas should certainly be seen as beachheads in the battle against intelligent design. He wrote,
The Dover case was a serious setback to creationists, ID or otherwise. However, no one involved in science education ever thought the IDCs would go away on account of a single courthouse defeat. Florida and Texas represent two chances to get a Federal district court opinion that contradicts the Pennsylvania one, and the present and possible future makeup of the Supreme Court gives the creationists considerable encouragement to give it their best try.
It's important to remember that the creationist controversy exists purely in the public/political realm and not the scientific realm. That will continue to be the case until the unlikely day when a creationist, using creationist "scientific principles" (of which there are none) makes a genuine contribution to the life sciences.
The case Lerner referred to is Kitzmiller v. Dover, a 2005 decision in which a federal court judge designated intelligent design as religion, not science. I asked Lerner whether he expects new lawsuits to be filed in Florida and Texas, and whether he thinks the curricula controversies are part of a plan. He responded,
Nothing much has happened yet. In Florida, the public-comment period for the draft science standards has just closed. I believe that the writing committee will have one more go at the draft in light of the comments this week. They will submit their work to the Board of Education quite soon. The Board of Ed will then decide what is to be done with the final draft when it meets in January.
You can be sure that the creationists will be there in force and with a well-planned attack on the evolutionary content of the draft. What happens after that is up to the Board, but you should bear in mind that its membership includes a number of creationists appointed by Jeb Bush.
In Texas, the science standards will not be up for revision until some time in 2008 -- I'm not sure of the exact date. However, the Board of Ed has sent a strong (if covert) signal in the firing of Ms. Comer, and the Department has made the remarkable statement that it must remain "neutral" in the matter of creationism vs evolution. The new state education chairman is a creationist, though he has disavowed intention to manipulate the science standards. So what happens in Texas remains to be seen, and will doubtless be affected by what happens in Florida at an earlier date.
The public comment period for Florida's new standards ends Friday. You can review and comment upon them here.
Employees are often asked not to take sides before state board takes action on topics such as science courses, agency spokeswoman says.
By Laura Heinauer
Thursday, December 06, 2007
It started with restrictions on travel and extended in recent months to warnings about what certain Texas Education Agency employees could say and include in presentations about an upcoming science curriculum review, a former official said.
The chill that has descended on the state's curriculum department started about a year ago and intensified in the past few months, said Chris Comer, the agency's former head of science curriculum for the past nine years.
Comer said she was forced to resign shortly after forwarding an e-mail message that her superiors felt was biased against the idea that life is a result of intelligent design.
"We were actually told in a meeting in September that if creationism is the party line, we have to abide by it," Comer said, maintaining that her ouster was political and that she felt persecuted for having supported the teaching of evolution in Texas classrooms.
Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said that reminders to be unbiased are not unusual before curriculum reviews and that staffers' computer slide presentations have been looked at in advance since this summer to ensure that they were consistent.
She said charges of misconduct against Comer were prompted by a lack of professionalism and not by politics associatedwith the hiring of a former Bush administration employee as Comer's boss or the appointment of a self-avowed creationist to chair the State Board of Education.
Ratcliffe said that although there are no written rules defining what agency employees can say regarding evolution, creationism or intelligent design, employees in the curriculum department were verbally warned recently to be careful when dealing with issues that might come up as part of the state's upcoming curriculum adoption process.
"An employee shouldn't say something that's contrary to the curriculum, and they shouldn't look like they are siding with one camp over another," Ratcliffe said. "It's no secret that there are political differences on the State Board of Education. ... And employees have to be able to work with all the members in a fair way without the perception that they are siding with one group or another. That's why it's important for us to be neutral on issues and just to say what the policy is and not to create it ourselves."
After typing the abbreviation "FYI" in the body, Comer forwarded an e-mail from a pro-evolution group announcing a speech by Barbara Forrest, a key witness in a court case in Pennsylvania that ruled against teaching intelligent design in schools. It was sent to several individuals and two e-mail discussion groups used by science educators.
"Obviously, there was a concern about the forwarding of that e-mail ... that she was supporting that particular speaker and (how) that could be construed ... as taking a position that could be misinterpreted by some people," Ratcliffe said.
Comer said curriculum employees at the agency have been scrutinized increasingly for the past year. It started with restrictions on travel to conferences; then, two months ago, came a verbal requirement that all slide shows had to be submitted for approval by the governor's office.
"We couldn't go anywhere. We couldn't speak," she said. "They just started wanting everything to be channeled."
Ratcliffe said, "In general, when someone has performance issues, their work product is more likely to be reviewed than others."
In the case of Comer's e-mail controversy, it was Lizzette Reynolds, the agency's deputy commissioner for statewide policy and programs and a former U.S. Education Department employee, who appeared to have raised the first alarm.
Reynolds came to the agency in January and was put in charge of the curriculum division in September. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
About an hour and a half after Comer's e-mail was sent, Reynolds, who was also an adviser to George W. Bush while he was governor of Texas, forwarded it to her superiors, calling it "an offense that calls for termination."
Ratcliffe said Comer's position has not been filled or even posted.
In an early November memorandum, the forwarded e-mail was one of several reasons for which agency officials said Comer should be terminated.
Comer was also cited for comments she was said to have made in October about a lack of leadership at the agency.
She was further cited for not obtaining approval to attend an October meeting in Austin on a new online training program for teachers and for not getting approval to make a presentation to the Texas Science Educational Leadership Association in August that included information about the upcoming education board review of science curriculum standards.
Board Chairman Don McLeroy said that he does expect evolution to be a hot topic during the upcoming review and that neither he nor anyone else on the board had anything to do with Comer's resignation.
"As far as I'm concerned, (agency employees) can say what they want," McLeroy said. "They've got freedom of speech."
Currently, evolution is spelled out as a concept that should be taught in Texas science classrooms; creationism and intelligent design are not.
Proponents of intelligent design say that evolution is an incomplete and unverified theory and that good science mandates students study its scientific criticisms and disputes.
Most scientists, however, say that the theory of evolution has been thoroughly tested and modified when necessary using sound scientific principals and that intelligent design is nothing more than a repackaged form of creationism that cannot be tested scientifically.
The American Psychological Association, among many science groups across the country, has refuted the claim that intelligent design is science at all.
In its 2007 Resolution on the Teaching of Intelligent Design, the group said, "Proponents of intelligent design present ID theory as a viable alternative scientific explanation for the origins and diversity of life. However, ID has not withstood the scrutiny of scientific peer review of its empirical, conceptual, or epistemological bases and thus is not properly regarded as a scientific theory."
In its deliberations on what Texas students should be taught about science, the education board will hear public testimony and receive recommendations from educators before voting on curriculum standards for all public schools in the state.
McLeroy said that although he is a creationist, he doesn't necessarily think creationism should be taught in schools. Rather, he said, he supports current curriculum standards that say students should "analyze, review and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses."
McLeroy said he would support changes that further spell out what evolution's strengths and weaknesses are.
Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, said he plans to fight to get the "strengths and weaknesses" language removed from the state's curriculum standards.
The group is one of several that have questioned why state employees need to remain neutral on the subject.
"This 'teach the controversy' and 'weaknesses of evolution' is nothing more than an attempt to distort and disparage what really is one of the most highly corroborated explanations in science," Schafersman said.
COMMENTARY: JOHN KELSO
Friday, December 07, 2007
I think I've figured out why some folks get their nighties in a gnarl over the theory of evolution, the one that says man evolved from critters.
It's because they have kin in states like, say, Arkansas who lend credence to the concept. Here's my theory. If your family tree has people living in it, you're more likely to think unkindly about evolution.
Now, why people find it insulting to be accused of evolving mystifies me. It's when someone points out that you stopped evolving halfway through the process that you've got your slur.
I've become ecclesiastical today because of the case of Chris Comer, the former director of science curriculum at the Texas Education Agency, the outfit that regulates what kids study in public school.
Comer, who taught science for 27 years, recently was given the boot by the agency for forwarding an e-mail that her bosses thought dumped on the theory of "intelligent design," which as best as I can figure is creationism with a fancier name. Creationism is the theory that God created the world in six days and then took Sunday off. To get the job done that fast, He must have used undocumented workers. Although the "Sunday off" part smacks of union help.
The e-mail that put Comer in the unemployment line mentioned an upcoming talk by Barbara Forrest, a Louisiana college philosophy professor who testified in a Pennsylvania case that found intelligent design isn't science but religion.
No matter what it is, that's a bad choice for a theory name because it's got oxymoron stamped all over it. Intelligent design? What intelligent design? Where is it? If you have ever had tweezers taken from you out at the airport because they might pose a terrorist threat, you're muttering, "Hey, you call this intelligent design?"
Other details that question intelligent design include flu season, Ding Dongs, the intersection of Sixth and Lamar, cedar fever, low-flow toilets and University of Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis. I'm sure you could add some non-intelligent design features that you have seen around here.
Anyway, it's looking like Comer is the victim of this ongoing bitter argument about how the world began, and I just don't understand why people get so hot and bothered over that. There is no remodel option, folks. The project is completed, and the work crew has returned to the yard. Got a complaint? Talk to God. Maybe it'll be better next time.
But whether the people in Oklahoma started out as apes or just ended up that way as time went along doesn't really matter. Either way, when you get north of that old Red River and the sun goes down, you got bingo and karaoke night for your evening's entertainment. And if that doesn't prove evolution, I've just got one question for you: What you got against bingo?
John Kelso's column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 445-3606 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why this information could be a useful tool in improving science education.
By Amanda Paulson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
from the December 5, 2007 edition
Reporter Amanda Paulson discusses the results of the PISA survey.Chicago - The United States lags behind most other developed countries when it comes to science education.
That, at least, is one conclusion of a major report released Tuesday by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It measures student literacy in science, math, and reading (focusing this year on science) among 15-year-olds, and is an often-cited reference for policymakers sounding the alarm bells about the state of education in the United States and its implications for the ability of Americans to secure jobs in a global economy.
Finland emerged at the top of 57 countries in science, according to the 2006 survey results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The US ranked 29th, behind countries like Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Liechtenstein, and ahead of just nine other OECD countries.
"What once was the gold standard [for international education] is now not even at the OECD average, which shows you how much the world has changed," says Andreas Schleicher, who helped write the report. The US is average in the number of students at the highest levels of scientific literacy, but has a much larger pool – nearly 1 in 4 – at the bottom, Mr. Schleicher notes. "We have stand-alone studies that suggest these kids have grim prospects in the labor market," he says.
That worry has energized education advocates and reformers, who see the test as a useful tool to catalyze public opinion behind the need for fundamental change in how America educates.
"To most policymakers there's almost a believed connection between how well our kids do in school and how well our economy does in the global economy," says Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy. "To the extent that you have first-class bulletproof studies saying this over and over, it provides some powerful ammunition... to make the kind of investments in our schools that we really have to make."
Not everyone sees PISA as bulletproof. Comparing something as different as educational systems in countries with different cultures and populations is fraught with complexities; some experts say the rankings are not as straightforward as they might seem.
"People love to cite bad stories," says Clifford Adelman, an associate with the Institute for Higher Education Policy, noting that after each PISA release, experts tend to bemoan America's poor showing. The truth, he says, is more complicated. The US, for instance, typically has a large proportion of students taking the test in a language other than their native one. Some countries track lower performing students into vocational schools where they will not be tested. Other countries are just smaller and more homogenous.
"The question is how you account for that statistically," says Mr. Adelman. In these tests, "I'm comparing [the US] a country of 300-odd million people, a nation of immigrants, that is incredibly diverse with, in the example of Finland, a country of [just under] 6 million people."
Others dismiss such concerns as excuses. "At the end of the day, that young person is going to have to go compete head to head for a job with someone in another country," says Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. Rather than focus on America's relatively low standing, he and others would like to see policymakers learn from other countries that have managed to improve their PISA scores, despite large immigrant populations and socioeconomic challenges.
"The lesson from PISA is that it's not enough to test; you have to have the support and strategy to take advantage of what you learn from those tests," says Mr. Wise. "Every community is not wired to the world, and every child needs to have an education that looks good not compared to the county next door, but internationally."
Science performance scores: selected countries
Hong Kong-China: 542
United States: 489
Average score: 500
Source: OCED PISA 2006
06:26 AM CST on Friday, December 7, 2007
The state of Texas doesn't merely advocate teaching the science of evolution; our education policy requires it. So why jettison a high-ranking educator who seems to have no problem carrying out that policy?
Christine Comer was forced to resign as director of science at the Texas Education Agency on Nov. 7 after she had forwarded an e-mail notice about an Austin lecture, "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse," by a professor who serves on the board of the National Center for Science Education. Ms. Comer provided no commentary with her message. But the mere fact that she forwarded it was deemed by her bosses as advocacy.
TEA Education Commissioner Robert Scott explained that other factors played into her dismissal. He couldn't discuss personnel matters, but he specified that "she may have given the impression that we were taking a position as an agency – not as an individual, but as an agency – on a matter."
Ms. Comer declined to comment to us. But she told The New York Times she felt she was being monitored by the "thought police" when her boss, Deputy Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds, quickly seized upon the e-mail as a firing offense.
We hope this isn't the beginning of a worrisome trend within the new leadership of the TEA and State Board of Education. Professional educators need assurance that no one aims to impose a religious agenda on students and require the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in science classes.
If Ms. Comer was incompetent, it's certainly not reflected by her 27-year career as a teacher and nine years of service as director of science. The impression we get is that her bosses were gunning for her, and the forwarded e-mail was the most expedient excuse they could find.
This action could not have sent a worse message to our state's educators, when we should be doing everything possible to encourage people to choose teaching as a career, not frightening or bullying them into leaving.
By Lucy Cockcroft
Last Updated: 6:41am GMT 07/12/2007
The Government's chief scientific adviser gave warning yesterday that people who use homeopathic medicines could be putting their lives at risk.
Sir David King said homeopathy was of no medical use whatsoever and that those who trusted it to cure serious health problems could be causing themselves more harm than good.
Sir David said homeopathy was of no medical use whatsoever
He also told MPs that the Department of Health was wrong to support the use of the alternative medicine and said there was no evidence that it worked.
Sir David, who was speaking to MPs on the innovation, universities and skills select committee, said: "There is not one jot of evidence supporting the notion that homeopathic medicines are of any assistance whatsoever.
"Therefore, I would say they are a risk to the population because people may take them expecting they are dealing with a serious problem."
He also voiced concern that the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority allowed homeopaths to state on labels what ailments their remedies would treat.
He said: "How can you have homeopathic medicines labelled by a department which is driven by science?"
Sir David's comments raised the issue of why the NHS continues to allow primary care trusts to fund homeopathy.
Trusts in Brent, Harrow, and Kensington and Chelsea have all withdrawn funding in recent years.
Jayne Thomas, the vice-chairman of the Society of Homeopaths, said: "There is a lot of proof out there that homeopathic medicines do work."
However, she added: "If a patient was seriously ill, any genuine homeopathic practitioner would encourage them to visit a GP."
Glasgow, Dec. 6, 2007 (CWNews.com) - A Jesuit astronomer from the Vatican Observatory has said that scientific creationism is a form of superstition.
Speaking in Glasgow this week, Brother Guy Consolmagno said that scientists should protect against the tendency of religion to slide into superstition. In turn, he said, science needs religion "in order to have a conscience." In the case of creationism, he said, believers have constructed a theory that is not supported by scientific facts.
"Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality," Brother Consolmagno said-- "to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism."
Brother Consolmagno speaks and writes frequently on the relationship between faith and science. He is the author of God's Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion.
"We were actually told in a meeting in September that if creationism is the party line, we have to abide by it," the former director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency told the Austin American-Statesman (December 6, 2007). Chris Comer, who was forced to resign from her position with the TEA in November 2007, related that over the past year, the TEA began increasingly to scrutinize and constrain the activities of its employees in the curriculum department: "We couldn't go anywhere. We couldn't speak," she said. "They just started wanting everything to be channeled." According to the newspaper, Comer maintained "that her ouster was political and that she felt persecuted for having supported the teaching of evolution in Texas classrooms."
As NCSE reported earlier, Comer was forced to resign after forwarding a brief e-mail announcing a talk on "intelligent design" by Barbara Forrest to several individuals and two e-mail discussion groups used by science educators. A spokesperson for the TEA was quoted by the American-Statesman as saying, "Obviously, there was a concern about the forwarding of that e-mail ... that she was supporting that particular speaker and [how] that could be construed ... as taking a position that could be misinterpreted by some people," and as contending that Comer evinced a lack of professionalism in other ways. Until her resignation, Comer served for nine years at the TEA, following a twenty-seven-year stint as a public school science teacher.
Comer is scheduled to appear during the first hour of NPR's "Science Friday" show, hosted by Ira Flatow, on December 7, 2007. The description for the show summarizes, "The education official responsible for the science curriculum in the state of Texas resigned last month saying she was forced to step down after being reprimanded for informing colleagues of a talk on the conflict over the teaching of evolution. ... Comer's supervisor said the email was grounds for termination as the 'FYI' email 'implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.' In this segment, Ira talks with Christine Castillo Comer about the case and about evolution, 'intelligent design,' and creationism in Texas."
The controversy comes shortly before Texas is about to embark on a revision of its state science standards. The new chair of the Texas state board of education, Don McLeroy, told the American-Statesman that although he is a creationist, "he doesn't necessarily think creationism should be taught in schools. Rather, he said, he supports current curriculum standards that say students should 'analyze, review and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses.'" Steve Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science retorted, "This 'teach the controversy' and 'weaknesses of evolution' is nothing more than an attempt to distort and disparage what really is one of the most highly corroborated explanations in science."
Editorial opinion, both within and outside Texas, continues to be critical of the TEA and worried about the implications of the case for the integrity of science education in Texas and across the country. As NCSE reported earlier, the Austin American-Statesman, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, a columnist for the Waco Tribune, and even The New York Times have weighed in, with the Times writing, "Is Texas about to become the next state to undermine the teaching of evolution? That is the scary implication of the abrupt ousting of Christine Comer, the state's top expert on science education. ... We can only hope that adherents of a sound science education can save Texas from a retreat into the darker ages."
Adding to the chorus, the Houston Chronicle (December 4, 2007) editorially commented, "Comer was simply alerting people to a relevant presentation by a reputable education writer. ... Since Texas policy supports the inclusion of evolution in science curriculum, it's hard to see how Comer was violating state policy by circulating an event notice sent out by a group that also endorses teaching evolution." Echoing Barbara Forrest's description of the TEA's stance as "just sad," the editorial added, "It will be more than sad if the Texas Education Agency is leaning toward taking an anti-evolutionary stance and allowing religious doctrine to be taught side by side with valid science in the state's classrooms."
In a similar manner, the Waco Tribune's editorial (December 6, 2007) suggested that "Texas parents, teachers and lawmakers should be extremely upset over the recent dismissal of the Texas Education Agency's director of science curriculum," and warned, "Because the State Board of Education will review the state science curriculum next year and set standards for classroom instruction and textbook selection, Comer's abrupt removal could signal an opening for the insertion of creationism or intelligent design into science classrooms in Texas. Texas parents, teachers and lawmakers should be on guard that the state avoids the mistakes that led to the 2005 Dover, Pa., lawsuit."
And in its editorial, the Dallas Morning News (December 7, 2007) commented, "We hope this isn't the beginning of a worrisome trend within the new leadership of the TEA and State Board of Education," adding, "If Ms. Comer was incompetent, it's certainly not reflected by her 27-year career as a teacher and nine years of service as director of science. The impression we get is that her bosses were gunning for her, and the forwarded e-mail was the most expedient excuse they could find. This action could not have sent a worse message to our state's educators, when we should be doing everything possible to encourage people to choose teaching as a career, not frightening or bullying them into leaving."
Writing in the Wisconsin State Journal (December 4, 2007), columnist Bill Wineke commented, "If proponents of this scientific quackery can terrorize a state education agency and force the resignation of a veteran science teacher, they will establish a precedent that will cripple serious science education not only in Texas but around the country." The Eugene, Oregon, Register-Guard's editorial (December 6, 2007) commented, "So if, as it appears, the director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency was forced to resign for forwarding an e-mail message about a presentation by an author critical of the intelligent design approach to science education, then it's appropriate to be both afraid and ashamed."
Those concerned for the integrity of science education have also been voicing their concern. As NCSE reported earlier, Texas Citizens for Science released a detailed statement on November 29, 2007. Moreover, Americans United for Separation of Church and State issued a press release dated November 28, 2007, calling on the TEA to rehire Comer. AU's executive director the Reverend Barry W. Lynn remarked, "It's a sad day when a science expert can lose her job merely for recommending that people hear a speaker defend sound science ... Officials in Texas seem intent on elevating fundamentalist dogma over academic excellence and common sense."
Barbara Forrest herself released a statement through NCSE on December 5, 2007, deploring the situation. "In forcing Chris Comer to resign as Texas Director of Science, the Texas Education Agency has confirmed in a most public, unfortunate way the central point of my Austin presentation, 'Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse,' the mere announcement of which TEA used as an excuse to terminate her: the intelligent design (ID) creationist movement is about politics, religion, and power," she wrote. "If anyone had any doubts about how mean-spirited ID politics is, this episode should erase them. ... For the last nine years at the TEA, after twenty-seven years as a science teacher, Ms. Comer was doing her part, and she got fired for doing it."
And the American Institute for Biological Sciences issued a press release on December 6, 2007, expressing outrage at the fact, expressed in the memorandum (PDF) recommending Comer's termination, that "the TEA requires, as agency policy, neutrality when talking about evolution and creationism." "When it comes to science education, we absolutely cannot remain neutral on evolution. Evolution is the unifying principle of modern biology," asserted Douglas J. Futuyma, president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences and distinguished professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University. "Within biological science, the reality of evolution is not controversial."
December 7, 2007
Posted on Saturday, December 08, 2007 The Associated Press
These are some of the public comments the Florida Department of Education has received on proposed new science standards that for the first time would include the term "evolution" and require students to study the concept in more detail:
- "How can anyone accept the theory of evolution? The last time I went to the zoo the monkeys weren't evolving into a man."
- "The failure to teach children the foundations of evolution is to deny them the ability to learn."
- "Please do not let these liberal wackos in the Washington foundations warp our young minds into thinking that their existence is an accident."
- "Please do not bow to the demands of these religious fanatics who are trying to distort the perceptions of our society for their own gain."
- "Evolution is a big area of controversy with many Christians. I have a problem with presenting this as a benchmark to parents that may object to their children being taught about evolution or even bringing it up at the kindergarten level."
- "This is absolutely necessary for higher education in science."
- "Are we begging for trouble or what? For goodness sakes remember your audience. We are a part of the Bible Belt. Why open old wounds. This could be titled something different. Why not just diversity?"
- "No religious influence! Strictly science."
- "I strongly disagree with the term 'evolution' being used in kindergarten or any grade level. I would change the term 'evolution' to a more user friendly term such as 'adaptations.'"
- "This is unacceptable, unless Biblical Creationism is taught alongside evolution."
- "It is about time Florida catches up with the rest of the country and planet."
- "To teach only one theory is communistic."
- "Evolution is an accepted scientific doctrine and as such should be taught that way. Religion should have no influence on deciding what is and what is not taught."
- "I will not allow you to teach my child this no matter what you put in your curriculum. I stand for Christ and his creation."
- "There is no room for creationism and ID in a science curriculum, only in a philosophy or religion class."
- "How is anyone's life improved by believing in evolution?"
- "While I personally have no problem with evolution, this benchmark will open a political can of worms."
By Bryony Gordon
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 09/12/2007
One of the few amusements at this miserable, godforsaken time of year, when hangovers, colds and hacking, phlegmy coughs are commonplace, is the advice that people swear by to cure them of said ills. It's as if, during the Christmas party season, everyone turns into a world authority on wellness.
Take echinacea. Drink 75 litres of lemon and ginger tea. Eat pomegranates, blueberries and goji berries. Stick your head over a bowl of boiling water and breathe in oily vapours extracted from a rare plant found in the depths of the Amazon jungle. Run six miles naked in the freezing cold. And so on, until you feel quite, quite nauseous just listening to it all.
With wonderful timing, the Government's chief scientific adviser last week hit out at hocus-pocus treatments. Sir David King announced that homoeopathic "remedies" are of absolutely no medical use whatsoever and, furthermore, that they could actually harm your health. And yet I am pretty sure that this grave warning will fail to dent the market for these tiny sugar-coated pills, which contain ingredients so watered down as to be practically nonexistent.
Because, for some reason, when it comes to alternative "medicine" we could be told that it will cause gangrene and lead to amputation of all our limbs, yet still we'd think the warnings were a conspiracy to get more money for evil drug companies.
We love nothing more than choosing "natural" ingredients over laboratory-created chemicals, because this makes us feel healthy and in control of our bodies. Well look, anthrax is naturally occurring, but you wouldn't rush out to stick that in your mouth, would you?
And yet compared to some of the quackery out there, homoeopathy looks positively conventional. If someone wanted to get rich quick, they could do worse than enter the booming world of alternative medicine. As long as you stick a "might", "could" or "possibly" in front of "make you feel better", anything seems to be allowed on the shelves of health-food stores. I have had a brilliant idea to market a box full of hot air which I will call "The Placebo Effect". It may just be the making of me.
I say this as somebody who has spent a ridiculous amount of time and money on this stuff. I have gone to bed with detox pads stuck to my feet and woken in horror to see that they are covered in brown gunk. I have had "cupping" - where heated cups are put on the skin to ease pain - after admiring the marks on Gwyneth Paltrow's designer-clad body. Reiki healing, hypnotherapy, herbal pills that cost 30 quid… you name it, it's featured in my attempts to become a well human being.
All of this is fine, to a certain extent. A lot of alternative medicine acts not on the body but the mind, and if it makes you feel as if you're getting better then I propose three cheers for snake oil. But when the NHS chooses to spend our money on homoeopathy, and when dubious practitioners of alternative medicine advocate its use in the treatment of HIV and Aids, one does begin to feel a little ill.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Florida's public-school students for years have been studying "biological changes over time," but proposed revisions in state science standards would for the first time use another term for that concept: evolution.
The new standards also would require more in-depth teaching of evolution and other topics while setting specific benchmarks for students to meet.
The pending changes have drawn a flood of public comment - pro and con - and are part of the national debate over how evolution should be taught. A Gallup poll released in June said that the country is about evenly split over whether the theory of evolution is true.
Some people say they oppose the teaching of evolution or want schools to also teach religious ideas of creationism or intelligent design to explain the origins of life.
Other objectors, such as Kim Kendall, a parent and education activist, deny a religious motive but say they just want teachers to offer evidence that contradicts as well as supports evolution.
Kendall is organizing opposition to the standards developed by two committees of scientists, educators and other citizens. One panel framed the standards and the other wrote them.
"They're being very dogmatic," Kendall said. "They do need to continue to teach evolution, but they need to allow the teachers to teach both the faults and the supports of evolution."
Supporters say that evidence for evolution is overwhelming and that it does not conflict with religious beliefs.
"We're looking at a scientific theory as opposed to a belief system," said Rick Ellenburg, Florida's 2008 teacher of the year. "I'm a religious person, and I don't see a conflict in my life. Within the realm of what I teach it's pretty much a nonissue." Ellenburg, who is Presbyterian, teaches science at Camelot Elementary School in Orlando and served on the committee that wrote the standards.
In Florida, old and new arguments alike are being made on a Department of Education Web site, at public hearings and in letters, phone calls and e-mails to members of the State Board of Education.
The board was expected to vote on the standards in January, but the decision likely will be put off until February to get in two more public hearings Jan. 3 in Jacksonville and Jan. 8 in Fort Lauderdale.
Board chairman T. Willard Fair, who heads the Urban League of Greater Miami, said he's never received more correspondence on a single issue, but he declined to discuss his views.
"I'm keeping a fairly open mind," said board member Donna Callaway, a retired Tallahassee middle-school principal. She has a Southern Baptist background and her correspondence has been overwhelming against the evolution standards, but Callaway said she believes that it should be taught in some manner.
Some Southern Baptist ministers have expressed opposition, but spokeswoman Lauren Urtel said that the Florida Baptist Convention has taken no position and had no comment. Board member Phoebe Raulerson, a former Okeechobee County school superintendent, said she couldn't comment because she hadn't yet examined the proposal and public comment.
At least one board member, though, strongly supports the standards.
"Evolution is well accepted in the scientific community as a fact," said Roberto "Bobby" Martinez, a Coral Gables lawyer. "This is not a discussion on religion."
The other four board members did not return telephone messages left at their homes or offices or were unable to schedule interviews.
Many supporters say that the standards are compatible with their religious beliefs including Joe Wolf, a Presbyterian deacon from Winter Haven who also serves as president of Florida Citizens for Science.
"What we really support is the teaching of strong science," Wolf said. "Part of that has to be the teaching of evolution. Evolution is the foundation of biology."
The standards are being updated on a 10-year cycle that in the future will go to six years, but advocates say that changes also are desperately needed to improve Florida's poor performance in science and prepare students to compete on a global level.
There was little dissent on evolution in the committees except for framer Fred Cutting, an aerospace engineer from Clearwater. "Students should learn why some scientists give scientific critiques of standard models of neo-Darwinian evolution," he wrote in a letter to both committees.
Cutting has attended intelligent-design meetings but said he's "not coming at this from a religious point of view."
The new standards are based on those in other states and nations considered leaders in teaching science.
"We're not talking about crazy, wacky stuff," said Sherry Southerland, an associate professor of science education at Florida State University. "This is the fundamental science the rest of the world learns."
Saturday, December 8, 2007 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Arguments for inserting skepticism, rather than religious concepts, into evolution lessons emerged after a federal court ruling nearly two years ago struck down the teaching of intelligent design in biology classes in Dover, Pa., said Michael Ruse, the director of Florida State University's program on the history and philosophy of science.
"This is strategy No. 4," Ruse said. He said that it's a wedge issue seen as a step toward introducing religious ideas.
A suburban Atlanta school board abandoned its effort to put stickers in high-school science books saying that evolution is "a theory, not a fact," and South Carolina's Board of Education rejected a proposal to require students to "critically analyze" evolution.
The Georgia and South Carolina cases are examples of the fourth strategy. Ruse described it as presenting evolution as an "iffy hypothesis" instead of what it really is - a scientific theory "that's accepted like the Earth goes around the sun."
The first strategy for evolution opponents was to prohibit teaching it. In the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, a teacher was convicted of violating Tennessee's evolution ban although the verdict was overturned on a technicality. Courts, though, later ruled that evolution could be taught.
The next strategy was to get the biblical account of creation taught as well, but courts rejected that, too, in the 1980s, Ruse said. Then the focus shifted to intelligent design, which holds that the universe's order and complexity is so great that science alone cannot explain it. That strategy also hit a legal roadblock when the Dover judge ruled that intelligent design was religion masquerading as science and that teaching it in the public schools violated the separation of church and state.
Since then, evolution opponents have had other setbacks, including a decision by Ohio's school board to eliminate a passage in its science standards that critics said opened the door to teaching intelligent design.
The Kansas state board in February repealed guidelines questioning evolution, the fifth time in eight years its standards have changed as religious conservatives and a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans have traded power.
Education: Iowa State denied tenure to an ID-supporting scientist and then tried to cover up why | Mark Bergin
The message from Iowa State University remains unchanged—namely that last spring's denial of tenure to astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez stemmed from inadequate scholarly credentials, not his favorable view of Intelligent Design.
But internal university documents and emails, recently released in compliance with public records requests, tell a different story. Messages circulated among ISU faculty and administrators reveal hostility toward ID and consequent opposition to Gonzalez. What's more, these private communications betray an effort to conceal the true reason for denying tenure to an acclaimed and accomplished scientist.
"All these emails clearly show that faculty had prejudged my case based entirely on my ID views about a year before the tenure case came down," said Gonzalez, whose pioneering work in astronomy has appeared in such prominent journals as Nature, Science, and Scientific American.
With a publishing record that includes 68 peer-reviewed articles and co-authorship of one of his department's textbooks, Gonzalez was bewildered at his denial of tenure earlier this year. His confusion turned to pain when colleagues and university officials began impugning his academic record to justify their decisions.
Suspecting foul play, the ID-advancing Discovery Institute, of which Gonzalez is a senior fellow, filed public records requests for ISU documents and emails pertaining to the case. Initially, the university resisted, complying only after the parties engaged in a game of litigation chicken. Upon receiving the documents, the Seattle-based institute hoped to submit them to the Iowa Board of Regents as part of an appeal in the tenure case. But the Board of Regents refused to consider them, driving Gonzalez to go public "to repair my professional academic reputation."
An independent source, the Des Moines Register, also filed a public records request and went public with the documents two days before the Discovery Institute press conference on Dec. 3. The newspaper reached a similar conclusion to Gonzalez, calling the material in the emails "contrary to what ISU officials emphasized" last spring.
Indeed, one 2005 email from physics and astronomy professor Bruce Harmon states that Gonzalez "is claiming ID is a proper branch of science, and so I think he opens it up in his tenure consideration. I would have thought an intelligent person would have at least kept quiet until after tenure."
Dozens of other messages mock Gonzalez and his ID work, lumping him with "idiots" and "religious nutcases." Others reveal a plan within the department to release an anti-ID petition meant "to discredit" Gonzalez. That petition fizzled after astronomy professor Steve Kawaler warned "it could be used to justify a legal claim of a hostile work environment" and it "works directly against our need to ensure and display a fair tenure review."
In response to Kawaler, physics professor John Clem wrote that he agreed with not publishing the petition for fear that it might help Gonzalez get tenure: "As for the unfortunate publicity we are receiving and the embarrassment we feel as a department, I think the best policy is to just grin and bear it for the next couple of years."
Physics and Astronomy Department chair Eli Rosenberg, who was included on several pejorative emails regarding Gonzalez and ID, appealed to such departmental bias in his recommendation to faculty that they vote against tenure: "The fact that Dr. Gonzalez does not understand what constitutes both science and a scientific theory disqualifies him from serving as a science educator."
With such clear anti-ID motivation still secret this past May, Rosenberg insisted in an interview with WORLD that ID "was not an overriding factor in the decision that was made at the departmental level."
University spokesman John McCarroll, who was present during Rosenberg's explanation to WORLD, says he cannot add to those comments. McCarroll also stands by the statement last spring from ISU president Gregory Geoffroy, who did not cite ID among the several performance-based factors he considered in denying Gonzalez's initial appeal.
The Iowa Board of Regents has yet to rule on Gonzalez's final appeal and will not convene again until February. "My chances of staying here now are pretty slim," the soft-spoken astronomer conceded. "But I need to clear my name."
Copyright © 2007 WORLD Magazine
December 15, 2007, Vol. 22, No. 46